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GVSU conference features speaker from Argentina: Women’s Movements and Democratization in Argentina

November 8, 2010

The 11th Annual Conference of the Americas wrapped up on Saturday with numerous session, workshops and documentary screenings all that dealt with the theme of “Creative Agents of Change.”

People had the change to hear from local educators and organizers who presented on topics such as immigration, cultural autonomy, youth based media, resource extraction and Latin America literature. There were also Latin Americans who presented on subjects such as the realities of being an immigrant in the US, reclaiming literary history and current popular movements throughout the continent.

The keynote speaker for Saturday was Graciela Di Marco, a professor at the university of San Martin in Argentina and long time participant in popular movements in her country. Professor Di Marco talked about the role that the women’s movement has had on all other popular movements in Argentina.

Prof. Di Marco talked about the evolution of popular movements in Argentina, where there has been a broadening of the scope of citizenship, the promotion of women’s rights, the cultural impact of feminism and joint articulation of these changes amongst academics and activists.

The speaker said, “Radical democracy is the construction of counter hegemonies resulting from the articulation of popular struggles.” She went on to say that this processes is grounded in the “denaturalization and criticism of inequality.” For Di Marco, the democratization process should put its emphasis on the equalization of relations and relationships.

During the military junta years, when 30,000 Argentines were disappeared, the human rights movement created the conditions for “elaborating a critique of all discretionary forms of the exercise of political authority.” This critique was not just of the military dictatorship, but a critique of power relations in the home and in popular movements themselves.

It was in this context that women started to see themselves in significantly different ways. Professor Di Marco said that women continued to see themselves as mothers, but they began to articulate the idea of “social motherhood,” which involves the demands of political power.

The advent of popular feminism at this time was made up of women in unemployed workers movements. Women’s participation in marches for instance, often ended up being festivals for the women who participate, since many of them rarely had the chance to visit the capital or enjoy the interaction with women from all over the country. Popular movement marches provided a forum for women to have those kinds of experiences.

Professor Di Marco then spoke about the picket movement, which has been the strongest movement over the last decade. Roughly 70% of the picket movement is made up of women, who in addition to marching, management community projects and occupy public spaces.

After the economic crash of December 2001 (a topic which is explored in the documentary The Take) the picket movement grew and began to express itself in different ways. Worker occupations and collectives led to greater cooperation between men and women and women were often in leadership positions in the worker co-ops and collectives.

These co-operative groups began creating new cultural models, such as transforming old warehouse spaces into a space for those wanting to learn how to be trapeze artists, day care centers and arts collectives.

Professor Di Marco said that women’s participation showed women that they did not need to be isolated and that tactics such as roadblocks and factory occupations gave them the idea that rights can be obtained through struggle.

However, while it is clear that this movement in Argentina is anti-capitalist, the movement still needs to work on anti-patriarchal dynamics that exist. Women were happy with the push for dignity in work and better education for their children, but they still struggled with domestic abuse and the inherent machismo that permeates institutes.

Professor Di Marco said that patriarchy was manifest in many of the social institutions because of the historical influence of the Catholic Church. She said that one could see this in the government, hospitals, the courts and other social institutions.  The speaker also said that Catholic fundamentalism is a key player in the counter attack on women’s rights and the popular movements.

For more information on the worker occupations, worker-run factories, co-ops and collectives that number in the thousands in Argentina, good sources are the book, Sin Patron: Stories from Argentina’s worker-run factories, and Indy Media in Argentina.


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